5 January 2001

RASES CHIEF PLAYS IT HONEST AND STRAIGHT

The Royal Agricultural Society

of England is best known for

staging the Royal Show. But it

does much more than this –

and its got a new man at the

helm, the straight-talking

Yorkshireman Mike Calvert.

Tim Relf finds out what makes

him tick

WHEN people say to me wheats gone up £10/t on the futures market, I ask them how much they havent drilled – and they might tell me 30%. Well that £10s not going to bridge the bloody gap, is it!"

Mike Calverts talking about the prospects for next summers harvest and the wet drilling autumn. Talking in his characteristically down-to-earth fashion.

"I can always bring any meeting down to a very low level," says the man who was awarded an OBE for services to agriculture in 1998. "I see things in very simple ways. Its the only way I can be. I answer questions that are asked in an honest and straight way. Thats just the way I am."

Mike became chief executive of RASE – a charity which aims to transfer technology and information under the motto "Practice with Science" – after last summers Royal Show.

Insiders say he was appointed for his business sense, his contacts and his understanding of the industry. "I have a fair feel for the problems that the industry is suffering because Ive been suffering them over the years the same as everyone else," he says.

And last year, it has to be said, was a difficult one for the company from which Mike came, CWS. It lost £0.5m on the back of pig and potato troubles. "I would have liked to stay with CWS and see them back into profitability," he says. "Ive been through good times and bad times with them before and it would have been nice to leave when it was making profit again. Trouble is, I wasnt looking for a job – this opportunity cropped up. I cant think of another like it."

&#42 Royal fact finding

So, just before he took up the post, he visited last summers Royal on a fact-finding mission. "I spent three days from 7 to 7 wandering around chatting to anybody and everybody about what was going on."

Does this mean we can expect big changes at the popular event? Yes, it has to change to reflect the changing industry, he says.

"Farming has been about food production. Farming in the future is going to be about all sorts of things. Weve got to reflect that in what we do. Food production will always be the mainstay of activities but weve got to become wider and wider, have a wider and wider audience and have a wider and wider range of issues as the world changes.

"The number of farmers and landowners making money out of farming or production will drop sharply – therell be ever-more interest in different kinds of land management, environmental goods, alternative businesses and new crops."

Therell be more focus at the event, for example, on the land management activities and the new landowner and farmer of the future. "People that make a few bob in the city and buy a farm – they need access to information as to the alternatives they can do with it. They look at it differently to the professional farmer who wants to keep 500 cows or 3000 acres of cereals."

The Royal also needs to be much more embracing of the food chain as a whole, he says. And it needs to have a bigger international focus. "At the moment we tend to draw international visitors. We want to draw international input as well. Agriculture is a globalised industry – that needs to be reflected in what we do.

"Weve got to accommodate a wider audience. The trick is to do that without losing the appeal of the show as it is at the moment. Thats the balancing act," he says. "We want to keep the Royal as the flagship event."

Mike, meanwhile, wants RASE to work more closely with other organisations with which it shares common aims and is planning to introduce different membership structures reflecting what people want from – and are prepared to put into – the society. "Weve got to become really accessible to all."

&#42 Prefers action

Change is a subject to which he keeps returning. This is a man, you soon realise, who prefers action to words. "I sit on a lot of committees. Years ago, I would have been aghast if somebody had said to me, youre going to be a committee man. Id say: I dont like committees. Providing you can have your say and providing things are being achieved, then thats fine. Im not interested in attending committees for the fun of sitting there."

And the father-of-three is relishing the task ahead. Having always told himself hed do something different at the end of his career, hes now doing it. "Ive been very lucky in life – Ive never done anything I didnt enjoy. Youre very lucky to be able to say that."

So has he missed CWS? "I havent had a chance to miss it, theres so much going on here. This autumn, with 20 inches of rain in three months, the problems would have been enormous."

And the weather, ironically, is something that will influence how people perceive his success in this job. "One of the problems that we have suffered is that the health of RASE – or the contribution of the RASE to the industry – has tended to be reflected in whether the suns shone during the Royal Show."